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LIFE’S A BEACH – PEST CONTROL ON THE REEF

PEST INSIDER: In this feature, we share stories from pest managers and leading figures within our industry to give you an insight as to how they deal with the various challenges of the pest control industry.

Pest control can be a tough gig sometimes. Crawling through a spider infested subfloor with limited headroom and inspecting a roof void in the heat of summer being two common, less than pleasant situations. But every now and then you get a job that makes you smile. Such was the case when Ben Hansen of Propest Pest Management in Central Queensland, was asked to investigate a potential termite issue on Heron Island, on the Great Barrier Reef.

Propest is a somewhat unusual pest control company, offering a more diverse range of activities than most. In addition to their core pest control activities, they also provide cleaning services and labour to the mining industry and a training services arm focused on providing a variety of safe working training courses. It was their connection with a local builder that opened up the opportunity on Heron Island.

“We do quite a lot of pre-construction work with Hutchison Builders. They were doing some work on Heron Island at the University of Queensland Research Centre and noticed what they thought was termite mudding or possibly some other timber pests,” Mr Hansen, Propest business development manager, explained. “Despite the assurance from Heron Island management that there were no termites on the island, the guys at Hutchison gave us the call to come out and have a look.”

With only the passenger catamaran available, Mr Hansen and one of his pest technicians, Jimmy Cargill, headed out to Heron with their hand luggage full of inspection equipment. Two hours and a bit of sea sickness later, they arrived.

The research centre and indeed most of the buildings in the resort are predominantly timber constructions with low height sub-floors. Coupled with frequent rainfall, shady locations and limited ventilation, the conditions were ideal for a wide range of timber pests. But being an island some 80km off the coast from Gladstone, Mr Hansen wasn’t sure what to expect, so they went into the inspection with an open mind. With set ferry times, the trip meant an overnight stay, but it also provided the opportunity to inspect at night (followed by a well-earned drink in the bar).

So what did they find?

“Contrary to the understanding of the island management, we did find termite activity – the dry wood termite, Cryptotermes primus. The other primary cause of timber damage was due to activity of the timber decay moth, Barea consignatella,” explained Mr Hansen.

The drywood termite, Cryptotermes primus

The Propest team also found two minor timber pests, an unidentified weevil, and a species of decay beetle, which only came out at night. This was later identified with the help of the Pest Managers Network on Facebook, as a member of the bark beetle family, Scolytinae.

Jimmy Cargill identifying the timber pests

Only the timbers in service exposed to rainfall were affected by the timber pests, structural timbers under the buildings showed no signs of wood decay or pest infestation.

In terms of other pest activity around the research centre and main resort, coastal brown ants were a major problem, especially in guest bedrooms. There were also reports of German cockroach infestations and a number of webbing spiders were recorded around the buildings. With this additional pest pressure and the observed noncompliant rodent bait stations around the site, Mr Hansen knew Propest could help the resort with their ongoing pest management.

The frass of drywood termites is a key identification feature

Mr Hansen completed a comprehensive inspection report and recommended some short-term actions to treat the various timber pests. With the aim of dealing with the pests as well as the decay present, spot applications with Boracal were recommended. However, any treatment would need to be reviewed by National Parks and applied with utmost care. The report also recommended changes to the construction and building materials.

The proposal is currently under consideration, but longer term, the island management is looking at renovating the buildings with new building materials that are both eco-friendly and resistant to timber pests and decay.

This is not the first time the Propest team has had to visit a barrier reef island, with a recent pre-construction job on North Keppel island also offering the chance to mix business with pleasure. Mr Hansen hopes this won’t be the last opportunity either!